“A Galleon With A Load Of Treasure”: Revisiting Disneyland’s Pirates Of The Caribbean

By on March 18, 2015

Forty-eight years ago, on March 18, 1967, Disneyland opened the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and the adjoining Blue Bayou Restaurant. It was the last attraction whose construction was overseen by Walt Disney himself; he died three months before it opened.

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It cost $15 million to build New Orleans Square ($8 million of which was spent on Pirates of the Caribbean). This is equal to the amount the United States paid for the real New Orleans as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

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The façade of the attraction was partly inspired by the Cabildo building in Jackson Square in New Orleans, which served as the seat of the Spanish colonial government in 1799. It is also noted for being the site where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803.

Some pirate-themed concept art, including a “Pirate Shack” and “Bluebeard’s Den,” even date back to 1954, before Disneyland even opened.

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The attraction was originally envisioned in the late 50s as a walk-through New Orleans-themed Blue Bayou Mart, featuring a Pirate Wax Museum, housed in a 70-foot deep basement, but it evolved into a boat ride through complex show scenes with Audio-Animatronics characters, possibly due to advances in technologies from the 1964 NY World’s Fair.

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The first Audio-Animatronic show at Disneyland (the small-scale yet largely popular “Tiki Room”) and well-received Audio-Animatronic displays at 4 shows at the World’s Fair had hinted that the use of the robots would be well-suited to telling the pirate’s salty tales.

Famed Disney artist Herb Ryman is credited with creating the essential look and feel of the place, which is a convincing replica of New Orleans’ French Quarter, with important input from Disney artist Sam McKim.

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But most of the concentrated design effort began in the early ’60s, when Marc Davis, the famed animator who created Disney’s “Tinker Bell” (among numerous other classic Disney characters), joined Walt at WED Enterprises as an “Imagineer.”

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Davis set about furiously creating artwork and gags for the proposed pirate “museum,” such as the illustation above.

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Real historic pirates were replaced with Imagineer Marc Davis’ humorous fictional ones. The painting of the female pirate above the Captain’s Quarters’ bar is by Davis. The Auctioneer was a test AA; many innovations were tried on him first, making him the most realistic.

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The basement now serves as the grotto section of the attraction.

Here are some fun facts, some are unconfirmed, however, but come from Disneyland insiders:

Ride Time: 14.5 minutes

Capacity: 3,400 guests per hour

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Audio-Animatronic Figures: 66 pirates and villages, 57 animals and birds

Amount of Water: 750,000 Main Lift Pumps (2 operating): 20,000 gallons
circulated per minute (maximum) 18,000 gallons circulated per minute
(maximum)

First Drop: Length – 52 feet Angle – 21 degrees

Second Drop: Length – 37 feet Angle – 21 degrees

Lift: Length – 90 feet Angle – 16 degrees Structural Data: Number of Buildings: 2 Number of Levels: 3 (Blue Bayou, upper caverns, and basement) Maximum Height of Ceiling: 40 feet

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The storyline of Pirates is a backward dream sequence, with the opening Bayou scene being the modern day. The portrait of the red-headed woman in the drunken skeleton room is actually a portrait of the red head being sold at the auction after she had been acclimated to the pirate lifestyle some years after her sale.

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The first brick bridge you go under on the Pirates ride is a functional bridge. It leads from the Bayou busroom to a backstage entrance near the outside bathrooms by the train station. It also could lead you to real back area, where the dumpsters are. This is the route used by celebrities in the park with tour guides.

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The Blue Bayou

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More fun facts:

The name of the pirate ship is the “Wicked Wench.”

The fire effects in the Burning Town scene were so realistic that prior to the attraction’s grand opening, the Anaheim Fire Chief asked that the effects automatically shut off in the event of a real fire.

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Pictured here is Walt Disney, inspecting one of the life-like sculptures that would become an Audio-Animatronic character in the attraction… but these startling robotic effects didn’t come easily.

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In the 1997 refurbishment, the “Pooped Pirate” (see here) was recast as the Gluttonous Pirate, a rogue in search of food. His dialogue included lines such as: “Me belly be feeling like a galleon with a load of treasure”, and “I be looking for a fine pork loin, I be.”  The woman hiding in the barrel was replaced by a cat.

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The ride, which originally told the story of a band of pirates including their troubles and their exploits, was replicated at the Magic Kingdom in 1973, at Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, and at Disneyland Paris in 1992. Each version of the ride has a different façade, but has a similar ride experience.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.